Why Marriages Fail-

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-9 NIV

 I recently had a conversation that can only be described as a full-scale bummer.

 A friend informed me she and her husband were splitting up after more than two decades together (she did not initiate the divorce). This news was depressing on at least a dozen different levels. We’ve known these people a long time, our kids grew up together, we love them both and two decades is a long time to invest in something that has clearly failed. This couple has adult children who are grieving deeply. Both the husband and the wife are professing Christians and the split has tested the kids belief that God is good and that love can overcome any obstacle.

 This sad news got me thinking about the subject of marriage in general and why marriages fail in particular. It occurred to me that although most folks know going-in that marriage takes a lot of energy and hard work, virtually all marriages begin on a hopeful note. No one I have ever known (or heard of) has entered into marriage anticipating failure or hoping things don’t work out.

 This truth begs the question: 

If most folks know from the very beginning marriage will not be easy then why do so many marriages fail with such depressing regularity?

 Everyone knows the statistics: roughly one-third to one-half of all marriages in America end in divorce. The most common reasons given for divorce are lack of sex, infidelity, money problems and poor communication.

 Only a crazy person would argue with a statistic. I do dispute the statistics. I do dispute the reasons given for divorce. The causes given for divorce are actually just symptoms of the actual causes of divorce. We will never change the divorce rate until we get real about why people divorce.

 Marriages struggle and die not because of big problems that cannot be worked out. Relationships struggle and die for three far less discussed reasons.

 It begins with

 Selfishness-

 According to the trusty word wizards at Dictionary.com selfishness is defined as “ being devoted to or caring only for one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc. regardless of others”. When we carry an attitude of selfishness into marriage it manifests itself in a lack of thoughtfulness or consideration for others. A friend (who has since repented) confessed that for years he bought his wife a big beautiful chocolate cake every year on her birthday. Not because she loved chocolate (she hated it passionately) but because he loved chocolate and it was a good excuse for him to eat the kind of cake he liked. Over time selfishness erodes positive feelings and leaves the other person (no matter how long-suffering they may be) feeling hurt and possibly even vengeful towards their spouse. If by some miracle the marriage survives, the love won’t.

 Ignoring Ephesian’s 5:21-

 Most Christians have heard the commands given to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. Women are told to submit to their husbands and husbands are commanded to love their wives. What most Christians don’t know is that the verse directly preceding those verses (Ephesians 5:21) commands spouses to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Mutual submission is the act of adopting an attitude of mutual cooperation and compromise in all things. Submitting to one another in marriage may mean having sex more often than you would prefer or doing chores that don’t necessarily appeal to you after a long day at work. Mutual submission means giving rather than taking and not holding a grudge over what you don’t get.

 One or both partners refuse to change-

 Marriage has been called “the ultimate growth opportunity” and it is, as long as both parties are willing to hear uncomfortable truths about themselves and then work on their issues. Truth-be-told Christians are more capable of growth and change than any other people on earth because they have Holy Spirit helping them and guiding them in all truth. When a Christian refuses to change ultimately they are choosing to be obedient to the Holy Spirit which is incredibly foolish and an indicator of immaturity.

 A wise pastor friend said “any two reasonably mature Christians can make a marriage work if they are BOTH willing to put in the necessary effort.” He understood a truth that can be a game changer in relationships: divorce is unnecessary if both parties are willing to die to self and submit to God.

 

 

 

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Breaking Free From the Pull of The World

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will~ Romans 12:2 NIV

Last week I wrote a post detailing five signs you might be a Christian who loves the world just a little too much (1st John 2:15). In that post I defined “loving the world” as taking our cues about how to live, love and function in this life from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (Romans 12:2).

 Loving the world is dangerous because it clouds our spiritual judgment and makes it nearly impossible to see life, people, and the circumstances we encounter from God’s perspective. Loving the world causes us to think like the world and adopt the characteristics of the world. When that happens we lose our ability to be the life-giving spiritual force our world urgently needs.

 The only way to combat worldliness is to work aggressively to break the world’s hold on our thinking, we will never effectively change our behavior until we change our mindset. The process begins with regular Bible reading and study. Knowing the Bible gives us insight into God’s view on issues. However, simply reading the Bible will not necessarily make us any less worldly. We also have to alter our behavior to bring it more in line with a biblical worldview.

 Changes need to begin with these five adjustments to our thinking and behavior…

 Practicing generosity rather than consumption- Acts 4:32-35, Acts 2:42-47, 1st Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2

 The world system teaches us to maintain emotional distance from people and use resources such as our time, possessions, energy and money for our own benefit and pleasure. The New Testament urges Christians live life with an open heart and to give with an open-hand. Until we learn to freely give of our resources and our time we will remain forever stuck in a worldly mindset.

 Ending our fixation with worldly entertainment- Psalm 119:37, Job 31:1

 Those in the entertainment industry want more than anything to change the way we think about the world, and they have been wildly effective in accomplishing their agenda. The abolitionist movement in America succeeded in ending slavery partly because leaders of the movement used powerful novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Twelve Years a Slave to change the way the average person thought about slavery. Hollywood does the same thing with equal success for far less noble causes. Television shows with storylines normalizing divorce, single motherhood and homosexuality preceded widespread acceptance of those practices in our culture. Next time you watch a television show, try and figure out what sin the producers are attempting to normalize, then turn it off and read a good book or interact with some people.

 Living out a biblical standard of sexuality- 1st Thessalonians 4:1-8

 Sexual immorality is a sin that is in a class all its own, mainly because it’s exceptionally damaging to all parties involved. When we commit sexual sin, we sin against God, other people and pollute our own bodies (1st Corinthians 6:18). Sexual immorality is placed at the top of a list of sins that God states will keep us from inheriting His kingdom (1st Corinthians 6:9-10). For those reasons (and a dozen others) Christians need to stop searching for loopholes in the rules. God cannot be tricked. Oral, anal and all other types of sex before marriage is still sex before marriage. Viewing pornography is sex and emotional affairs inevitably lead to sex outside of marriage. Our lack of obedience in this one area has caused the church to lose all moral authority in the culture. We will only get it back through a commitment to repentance, purity and doing life God’s way.

 Callously rooting out sin in our own lives- John 5:14, 1st Corinthians 15:34

 Sin is a pernicious thing. It creeps into our lives, oftentimes without our awareness or consent. The only way to combat sin’s encroachment into our lives is by asking God daily to reveal the sins we do not see in ourselves and then repenting (turning away from) the sin we do recognize in our selves.

 Praying about everything- Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2

 Nothing is too big or too small to talk to God about. Without the discipline of prayer we inevitably lose connection with God and unwittingly open ourselves up to the influence of the world. Prayer safeguards us against worldly thinking by reminding us that we are not wise enough to do life without God.

 Rooting out worldly thinking and behavior in our lives is not an optional exercise or an elective spiritual discipline—it’s a matter of spiritual life and death.

 

 

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near~ Job 17:11-12 NIV

 Regular readers of this blog know that I typically write out of my own personal experience and only very rarely tell the stories of others. There are numerous reasons for my reluctance to tell other people’s stories.

 First, I feel really weird telling other people’s stories and I hate feeling weird. I also worry excessively (probably neurotically) about violating the privacy of others. Moreover, I only know what I know, not what other people know, so I am reluctant to assign motives to others and it’s hard to tell some stories without assigning motives. And finally, I avoid offending others unnecessarily and there is no quicker route to provoking an offense than to tell someone else’s story and get it wrong or to assign the wrong motives.

 Sigh.

 All that being said, this week I feel inclined to share what I gleaned from watching someone else live out a really unpleasant chapter of their story with honesty and grace.

 I have a close friend who has been through more tough stuff in the course of the last two weeks than one could reasonably expect to experience in a decade of living. In the interest of protecting my friend’s privacy, I will spare you the nitty-gritty details of her private hell. I will tell you that the situation manifested itself suddenly and with no warning. Within days it morphed into the kind of nightmare we all secretly fear will happen to us and pray never does.

 Life has hit my sweet friend with some nasty curveballs in recent days.

 I define a curveball as any situation we were not expecting that abruptly alters our life in an unpleasant and unanticipated way. Curveballs are frustratingly common in this life. No one, no matter how well they manage their personal affairs, makes it through this life without experiencing at least one season of curveballs.

 Curveballs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in the form of an unforeseen job loss, a financial or health crisis, divorce, affair, or the death of a loved one. In truth, the details of said situation matter less than how we handle them.

 Today I am going to share four strategies for managing the curveballs of life I picked-up from observing my friend this week. First….

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

 Alas, the first instinct many of us have when trouble strikes is to get mad at God. We do this because logic tells us that God is the omnipotent maker of the universe and if anyone is capable of preventing trouble, it’s God. While that may be true, it ignores a couple of vital truths. First and foremost, trouble and hardship are a sad but inescapable consequence of living in a fallen world (John 16:33). Even Jesus experienced hardship and trouble in this life (Hebrews 2:10). Secondly, God wants to be there for us and give us comfort in the midst of our trials. And finally, God sometimes uses hardship and trouble to shape us into the people He has called us to be and to prepare us to minister effectively to others. God cannot do any of the things He wants to do in us or for us if we push Him away in anger.

 Accept help-

 God does His best work through His people. Anytime someone offers to help in a crisis we should view that person as the hand of God reaching out to offer practical support in our time of need. It’s essential we take the help that’s offered.

 Own what you need to own-

 With a few notable exceptions, curveballs rarely just appear out of nowhere. Typically there’s a history of reckless/sinful/unwise choices that led up to the life-altering mess. It’s crucial we take responsibility for any part we may have played in creating the situation that led up to the curveball. Taking ownership of mistakes and failings keeps us from blaming God and will ultimately set the stage for us to make better and wiser choices in the future.  

 Find someone you trust and be as real as you need to be about how you feel-

 Talking is the ONLY way to stay sane in a curveball situation. Sadly, we simply cannot be honest with everyone because not everyone is worthy of trust or equipped to deal with the negative emotions that accompany a curveball. So find the one or two people who will listen, pray, and offer wise counsel without judging and share what you need to share to preserve your sanity.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Manchester, Multicultural Madness and Why We Should All Care About Politics

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight~ Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV

I was preparing dinner when I heard the sad and all-too familiar news that there was yet another terrorist attack in Europe. This time the attack was a bombing at an arena in Manchester, England. The suicide bomber killed 22 and wounded 116 (mostly school girls and their parents) as they were leaving a concert Monday night. 

 This type of tragedy inevitably highlights the bigger issues of life. It gets thoughtful people focused (at least temporally) on both the innate goodness and incomprehensible evil of mankind, the preciousness and brevity of life, and the importance of vigilance when it comes to our safety and the safety of our children.

 As central as these issues are, it’s not where we ought to get stuck at this moment in history. Rather, the attack in Manchester ought to place our focus squarely on the importance of politics; or more precisely on political ideas and why we ought to care about them.

 It has become almost a badge of honor in Christian circles not to care about politics or political ideas. I get it. Following the epic disappointments (and outright failures) of the “Religious Right” and “Moral Majority” political movements in the eighties and nineties many Christians concluded that politics are a distraction to the real mission of Christianity and there is little value to Christian political involvement.

 For the record, I do not believe politics are the be-all-end-all solution to every problem we have. To my knowledge, no law or political idea has ever changed a human heart or healed a sin-sick society. Only Jesus can do that. That said, politics matter because politics are the soil in which a society grows.

 If the politics of a society are bad, the society will eventually go bad.

 Nazi Germany is the classic example. In less than twelve years Nazi political ideas annihilated twelve centuries of cultural Christian witness, obliterated the flourishing Jewish culture in most of Europe and ended the lives of six million men, women and children.

 Conversely, good politics produce good cultures.

 We possess the blessings of individual liberty, economic freedom and the ability to speak our minds and worship in any way we see fit because of the political ideas and leanings of our Founding Fathers.

 America never would have become America and Nazi Germany never would have become Nazi Germany if it had not been for political ideas.

 For at least two decades Western political leaders have embraced the notion of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is the belief that all cultures and all aspects of all cultures are all equal. Because all cultures (and all traditions within cultures) are equal, no one has a right to judge the deeds or beliefs of another culture.

 It’s all very tolerant, broadminded and progressive.

 However,

In order to fully embrace multiculturalism you must also embrace the notion that a culture that protects, educates and nurtures young girls is no better (just different from) a culture that ritualistically mutilates the sexual organs of young girls and sells girls into sexual slavery. One must also embrace the notion that a culture where most folks respect the beliefs (religious and otherwise) of others is no better (just different from) a religion where some followers think terror and violence are a legitimate means to a political, religious, or social end. You must also accept that those followers will cultivate those beliefs in their places of worship and in the hearts and minds of their children.

 Let’s be real here.

 Not every person who comes from a culture that observes bad traditions is a bad person. However, some cultural traditions and beliefs are quite clearly bad (burning widows alive, slavery, racism, sexism, terrorism, genital mutilation, eating people). Those traditions have no place in any society.

 Yes. I am judging. Get over it.

 Multiculturalism is a stupid political idea directly related to the proliferation of terror attacks in Europe, including the one in Manchester. Sadly, it’s just one of a hundred stupid political ideas destroying Western culture that Christians are not praying about or confronting. Sadly, many Christians don’t even recognize multiculturalism when they see it in their children’s textbooks or hear it preached from the pulpit.

 The real mission of the church is to act as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and make disciples in whatever culture God places us (Matthew 28:19). We have to understand the times we live in (1st Chronicles 12:32) to do the things the church has been called to. Understanding our times demands political awareness and involvement.

It’s that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Ahead and Feel Guilty- It Might Be Good for You


Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin~ Psalm 32:5

The other morning I happened upon a Psychology Today article on the topic of guilt. Closer analysis revealed pretty quickly that the article wasn’t really about guilt per se. Rather, the article was about how destructive and futile the writer (a psychotherapist with an alphabet soup of degrees behind his name) believes the whole notion of guilt is to the average human.

 The writer went to great lengths to convince the reader (in this case me) that guilt is nothing more than a societal and religious construct (a concept invented by society and religion to motivate people to do what “society” wants them to do). In the writer’s estimation, guilt serves no positive or healthy purpose for individuals and tends to keep people stuck in self-defeating patterns of behavior

 When I finished reading the article I was convinced of little but the likelihood that the writer is simply a well meaning, highly educated, and extremely articulate nut-job. However, his views did get me thinking more deeply about the subject of guilt. More specifically, it got me thinking about whether or not guilt is a good or a bad thing.

 The answer is “yes”.

 But, before we go there, I want to define the meaning of the word guilt for the purposes of this post. According to the word wizards at Dictionary.com, guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for an offense, crime, wrong and etc., whether real or imagined.

 Okay.

 Call me old-fashioned, nutty or whatever you wish to call me. But, I have a tough time accepting the view that a feeling of remorse or responsibility after committing a crime or offense is a bad thing. The exception of course would be if the person were feeling guilt-ridden over a fictitious or imagined offense. That situation is a bit trickier to navigate. The nitty-gritties of dealing with imagined guilt are without a doubt way above my pay-grade and outside of the scope of this blog.

 That said.

 I am convinced that guilt is neither good nor bad. Guilt is like the check engine light on a car. It’s simply an indicator there’s something going on that ought to be explored more thoroughly. A persistent sense of guilt warrants some self-examination to see if we need to change course or apologize for something we’ve said or done.

 Admittedly, there are folks whose check engine light goes off for no good reason. Those types of people feel guilty over situations they had absolutely no control over. There are also those who feel guilty when someone sins against them, some even feel guilty over the sins others people have committed (like their parents, kids or spouse).

 Feeling guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong or sinful is false guilt. False guilt is one kind of guilt that really is a pointless waste of time. Wallowing around in false guilt can feel good and even self-righteous at times. However, it can keep us from seeing clearly the things we really did do wrong and are in need of repentance.

 Feeling guilty or regretful when we do sin or commit an offense is a good and healthy thing to feel (Psalm 51, Isaiah 66:2). Guilt drives spiritually and emotionally healthy people to contrition. Contrition motivates people to repentance (change) and changing bad people into better people is what God is all about. However, guilt can quickly morph into a bad thing if we stay stuck and let the guilt fester into condemnation.

 Contrary, to popular belief condemnation is not the same thing as guilt. Condemnation is guilt’s ugly cousin, it breeds hopelessness and self-loathing by telling us that there is no way we can ever be good enough and that there is nothing we can ever do to be forgiven or become better. Condemnation, not guilt, is what keeps people stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior.

 The Bible is clear that there is no condemnation (although there might be guilt when we sin) for Christians (Romans 8:1). In a society where people tend to either wallow in false guilt or deny there is any such thing as guilt, Christians need to model a healthy understanding of the issue. Christians should be quick to confess sin, eager to repent and ready to tell others about the freedom we have from condemnation in Christ.

The Actual Purpose of Church-

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us~ 1st Peter 2:12 NIV

 Over the course of the last month, I have heard the same quote repeated three times, by three different speakers in three entirely unconnected settings. It did not take me long to discover that the quote in question came from the book Christianity and The Social Order, written by William Temple (1880-1944), it reads:

 “The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

 It’s important to note that every speaker citing this quote used it to make a case for the belief that the only real mission of the church is to evangelize the lost. Each one stated (in slightly different ways) that the church exists to reach those outside the church and every activity the church engages in ought to be focused entirely on reaching people who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus.

 Period.  

 This is a bit off-topic, and I’m more than a little reluctant to bring it up at all. Mainly because I know that pointing out the following pesky little detail makes me sound like a smarty-pants-know-it-all jerk-face.

 That said…

 In context the quote had nothing at all to do with with evangelism, reaching the lost, missions, or becoming a mission minded church. In his book Mr. Temple was attempting to make a case for his view that churches and ministers ought to support the implementation of state-sponsored welfare systems. Whatever you believe about state-sponsored social welfare, it is not exactly an evangelistic enterprise.  

 Now back to the actual point I was attempting to make here.

 Long before I knew anything at all about Mr. Temple’s beliefs or motivations, the quote did not sit well with me (which is super weird because I’m typically all about reaching the lost). Admittedly, I had a hard time putting my finger on why I was struggling to agree with the statement. I agree that the church is not to exist for it’s own selfish gain nor is it to devolve into a spiritual “Club Med” for the redeemed. The New Testament is painfully clear that Christians and the churches they belong to are to be other-focused (Romans 12:5, 1st Corinthians 9:19, Galatians 6:10, Philippians 2:4).

 But does that mean evangelism is the churches only purpose?

 I think not.

 Contrary to popular belief, the church does not have a single purpose or mission. Rather, it has several. Some of those purposes are spiritual in nature (evangelizing the lost, worshiping God, proclaiming Jesus until He returns). Others are more down-to-earth (teaching believers, providing for the poor, widows and orphans, spreading peace, bringing justice to unjust situations). Essentially, every purpose of the Church will fit fairly neatly into one of three categories:

 1. Glorify Jesus (make Him look good)- Romans 15:6, Romans 15:9, 1st Peter 2:12

 2. Encourage the spiritual growth of Christians- Ephesians 4:11-14, Colossians 1:9-11, 1st Peter 2:2, 2nd Peter 3:18

 3. Reach the un-churched with the gospel- Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Timothy 4:1-3, Romans 10:13-15

 Our inclination to rank the significance of tasks or purposes is a big part of what’s killing the church. Anytime we begin ordering the significance of a set of tasks or purposes, a priority list is formed in our own mind and something always gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

 In the case of the 21st century church, the priorities of glorifying Jesus and developing spiritually mature believers have taken a backseat to reaching the lost. Somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that teaching a saved person what the Bible says about how to live a holy life is somehow less vital than getting that person saved in the first place. The sad result of our prioritization of the purposes of the church is that fewer people are getting saved, and the ones who do are more likely to fall away.

 I do not believe that any one of the above listed purposes of the church are any more or less important than any of the others. However, I did list them in a particular order because I believe we never effectively evangelize the lost if we are not equipping Christians for works of service (Ephesians 4:10-12) and glorifying Jesus by living holy, God honoring lives.

 Period.

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Church

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it ~ Matthew 16:18b NIV

 Churches today are beset with some seemingly insurmountable problems.

 In many churches attendance is down, conversions are down, baptisms are down, tithes are down and the number of people willing to serve in leadership positions is down. According to the Barna Research Group, few adult Christians can adequately articulate the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and even fewer are willing to live out the traditional teachings of Christianity.

 An appalling number of Millennials are leaving the faith of their parents and grandparents faster than rats deserting a sinking ship for a new belief system they call “spirituality”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 Millennials aren’t the only group leaving local churches at a troubling rate. Many empty nesters (45+) claim they no longer feel needed or wanted at church for anything other than financial support and pew warming. As a result, countless previously active church members are ditching Sunday morning services for Sunday morning brunches.

 Sigh.

 Despite the aforementioned doom-and-gloom I really am genuinely hopeful for the future of the church. The church is not a scheme of man but the plan of God and God’s plans have a way of working out (Psalm 33:10-11, Micah 2:1-3) despite the failings of people.

 We all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. Contrary to popular opinion churches are not buildings, nor are they denominational dogma residing in a building. Churches are groups of people who have come together around a common leader (Jesus) and a common cause (the gospel). Jesus passed on the responsibility and privilege of building His Church to individual believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Therefore, if Churches are struggling it is to some extent the fault of the folks in the church, because we are the church. I believe there are three changes that can be made in the way we do church. First we need to…

 Adopt a more biblical model of church-

 The New Testament church is not a seeker centric church model. The New Testament church is a believer centric model (Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1st Corinthians 5:11-13, 1st Corinthians 11:21). The church was designed with the growth of the already converted person in mind. Unsaved people were welcomed into the church but they were not the primary emphasis, rather they were a consideration (1st Corinthians 14:23). New Testament churches focused on teaching, preaching and creating occasions for fellowship so that the people of God would grow spiritually and reach the people around them with the good news of Jesus Christ. The contemporary church has turned the biblical model on its head; we aim most of our programs and preaching at unsaved people rather than saved people. In the process we have neglected to teach the already converted the deeper truths of Scripture that they must know to become productive members of the body.

 Turn the responsibility of evangelism back over to laypeople-

 The biblical model of evangelism is for Pastors and teachers to train laypeople to do the work of reaching un-churched people with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13) and then for those folks to bring their friends into the church family. Most churches expect their congregants to invite their friends to church with little or no evangelistic preparation. This means most of the un-churched people who come to our churches are not prepared to hear the gospel or make a commitment to Jesus. As a result few make commitments and the ones that do tend to fall away rather quickly.  

 Do what Jesus did-

 It’s no secret we live in a culture filled with broken, hurting, people. Christians are called to minister to hurting people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they’ve done. Period. The knee-jerk response most of us have for brokenness is love. Clearly, we do need to love the lost as well as the less than lovable. However, love is a feel-good response and only half the solution. We also need to invest our time, energy and treasure into helping broken people to become as whole and spiritually healthy as possible (1st John 3:18). Becoming whole and spiritually healthy is not something that happens in a twelve-week, ten-step mentoring program. Discipleship that changes lives and transforms people into the image of Jesus requires a long-term commitment of authentic friendship to a messy person.

 The solutions to the church’s problems will require a shift in our thinking and the way we view church and the discipleship process. We need to go back to the biblical models of training laypeople to do the work of ministry and trust God to work through them.

 

 

 

 

Knowing for Certain-

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth~ 1st Timothy 2:3-4

 We live in a time and place where it is blessedly easy to know the answers to a lot of life’s questions.

 Anyone with a laptop and/or a phone can know exactly how much money he or she has in the bank anytime—day-or-night. Even a person completely ignorant of history can discover in seconds who the POTUS was in 1926 (Calvin Coolidge in case you’re too lazy to Google). A small sample of blood will reveal all sorts of interesting things about a person. Including their general state of health, chromosomal make-up, nation of origin and whether or not they eat lead paint chips

 The modern era clearly has its perks.

 However, other questions remain unanswered. The brightest scientific minds of our day still cannot explain why we have turbulence or what make magnets work or how birds know to migrate or even how our brains store and retrieve memory. No one but God knows why we dream or even what a dream is or why we all get a little nuts-o if we go too many nights without dreaming.

 Sigh.

 Some spiritual questions are even tougher to answer.

 No one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why God sometimes feels distant and other times He feels close. No one knows why some prayers go unanswered and others don’t, or why some people suffer and others don’t.

But in my experience the most vexing question of all for many believers is whether or not they really are a Christian.

 Most of us know that becoming a Christian is not simply something that happens, nor is it something we are born into. Contrary to popular belief simply attending a church or a small group, serving on a ministry team, or even praying a “salvation prayer” does not guarantee that one has passed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life.

 Knowing for certain matters for at least three reasons.

 First, assurance of salvation is not a subject that is discussed in many churches these days; as a result many have been left with questions. Secondly, Jesus warned his followers that on Judgment Day (yes, it’s a real thing, Matthew 11:24, Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-12) there will be many who mistakenly assume that they are Christians until it’s too late to do anything about it (Matthew 7:21, Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 7:13-14). And finally, it matters because if the Bible is true (and I believe it is) then eternity will be long and it’s good to know where and how we will be spending it.

 Sadly, the signs of salvation tend to be subtle, but there are at least four clear indicators of an authentic Christian including…

 1. Authentic Christians hate to sin-

 One of the surest signs of salvation is a yearning to please God and do His will. This means that genuine Christians do not like to sin nor do they typically sin intentionally. This doesn’t mean Christians never sin (1st John 1:10). It does mean that for a Christian, sin is typically followed by remorse, repentance and a sincere desire to do better next time (2nd Corinthians 7:10).

 2. Authentic Christians do what it takes to grow-

 Attending a Bible study or a church service does not make anyone a Christian, nor does it make Christians “more saved”. That said, church and Bible studies are where we worship God, learn about our faith, become accountable to other believers, and are challenged to grow-up in our thinking and behavior (1st Corinthians 13:11.) Consequently, all Christians ought to attend church and Bible studies.

 3. Authentic Christians love people and care about their eternal destiny-

 Love for God and love for people is the identifying mark of a Jesus follower (1st John). However, authentic biblical love is more complex than the squishy, syrupy Hallmark Channel kind love we have all become accustomed to. Authentic Christian love is concerned for the feelings of others but it is also honest enough to tell people the truth about where their choices will lead.

4. Authentic Christians don’t quit- Hebrews 12:1

 Authentic Christians do not quit serving God, loving people, and going to church just because some nitwit said something hurtful or God did not answer a prayer the way they felt He should. Authentic Christians know that they are soldiers in a spiritual war and soldiers don’t desert over hurt feelings and petty disappointments (2nd Timothy 2:3-4). Perseverance is and will always be the surest sign of salvation.  

 

 

 

Defending a Cause I Believe In

                                                                                                                                                     Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from God. Psalm 127:3 NIV

 I just finished reading an article that left me feeling rather melancholy.

 The article was originally published in Marie Claire magazine, and is entitled “Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They Never Had Kids”. The writer tells the stories of women from around the world who freely admit that they seriously regret having kids.

 I am a bit of a skeptic, so at first I was dubious. Surely, the author was overstating the extent of the issue to get clicks and sell magazines. However, some quick research revealed that this is indeed a real thing. I found dozens of articles on the subject and a plethora of chat rooms and support groups that serve as safe spaces for women who sincerely wish they never had kids.

 My first impulse was to judge.

 Not because they feel the way they feel. I learned long ago that feelings (unlike actions) are not something that can be easily controlled. And as someone who has had some pretty inappropriate thoughts and feelings concerning all sorts of things and people I would never judge anyone for feeling a particular way.

 That said, I struggle to withhold judgment when I see folks vomiting up their feelings all over cyberspace. Call me old-fashioned, but even in the age of compulsive over-sharing I still believe there are circumstances where it is thoroughly appropriate to shut our pie-holes and keep some feelings bottled-up nice and tight.

 Because defending a cause is a far more noble pursuit than judging others I’m going to drop the judgment and attempt to make a defense for the cause of Motherhood. I will not attempt to feed you some insipid or overly spiritualized line about how fulfilling and blissful every moment of motherhood is, that is simply not true. Like most things in life mothering does have its moments of blissful fulfillment, but it’s far from easy and blissful especially in the early years.

 As the Mother of four I know that while you’re in the middle of raising young children, parenting FEELS like a lot of hard work and frustration punctuated with moments of agonizing self-doubt. But as someone who has raised kids to adulthood I can also tell you that mothering is worth the effort for four reasons:

 Mothering impacts the future like nothing else-

 To my eternal shame my children know very little about their great-Grandmother. She died long before they were born and I doubt any of them could tell me her first name. They certainly don’t know what she did for a living or any details concerning her overall net worth. However, I see a lot of the attitudes she modeled including fair-mindedness, generosity, and the value of hard work living on in them. She sowed those ideals into me and I have done my level best to pass her legacy on to them. Most people a hundred years from now will not know or care about what you did for a living but they will know exactly what you valued in life because they will see those values living on in future generations.

 Mothering is the best discipleship opportunity you are ever going to get-

 Most Christians long to make a spiritual impact on the future. Sadly, few of us feel we are given much of an opportunity to affect spiritual change in others. Parenting gives us the better part of two decades to impart spiritual truth into the hearts of our kids. If we go the extra mile and live the truth we teach we will make a significant spiritual impact on the lives of the kids we raise and they in turn will make an impact on future generations.

 Mothering has the power to make us better people-

 Mothering reveals in living color every single one of our shortcomings and less-than-healthy coping mechanisms. When our weaknesses are exposed we have two options, we can ignore reality or we can become better people. There is nothing quite like having a couple of kids watching to give us the incentive needed to work at becoming better people.

 Parenting makes us dependent on God for wisdom and direction-

 Seriously, anyone who has parented for more than an hour knows that parenting is scary. Being scared causes a lot of people to look to God and we are all better people when we are looking to God for insight and assistance.

 For decades now women have been fed the lie that motherhood is a waste of our time, energy, and talents. That lie is fostered in blogs and magazine articles promoting a survivor approach to parenting, snarky memes belittling motherhood and cutesy signs inscribed with “charming” little adages like “Mommy needs vodka” and “don’t mind the mess the children are being a**holes”. With those attitudes so deeply rooted in our culture it’s not surprising that many women regret having kids. As Christian women it is incumbent on us to take the long view of things and remember that we are not called to live comfortable, stress-free lives today, rather we are called to live for future generations.

 

The Secret to Real and Lasting Change

Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation ~ 2nd Samuel 14:20a NIV

 I am currently reading through the book of Exodus.

 I recently got to the point in the narrative where Pharaoh and God engage in what can only be described as an epic smackdown.

 Most of us know the story.

 God instructed Pharaoh (through Moses) to let the people he had been enslaving go free. For obvious economic and probably some not so obvious personal reasons Pharaoh, rejected God’s call. God responded to Pharaoh’s insolence by sending some unusually nasty disasters in an effort to convince the Pharaoh to comply.

 Pharaoh was not a man easily motivated to change.

 At one point Pharaoh’s own advisors reminded him that Egypt was pretty much ruined already. They begged him to do as the Hebrew God had asked before further disaster was brought on the land (Exodus 10:7).

 Rather than changing his behavior, Pharaoh doubled-down on his policy, fought God and rejected the change God wanted to bring into his life. Like all people who fight God, he eventually lost. The slaves were freed and Pharaoh found himself pushing up daisies due to his own idiotic and unrelenting stubbornness (Exodus 14).

 As I was reflecting on this story I have to confess that I found myself thinking some rather smug and judgmental thoughts regarding Pharaoh. I couldn’t help but wonder why a person would fight so hard against change when the benefits of doing something different were clearly obvious even to the most hard-headed of fools.

 Then I had one of those lighting-bolt moments.

 There is an issue that has been generating what can only be described as weird chaos in my life for three years. In recent weeks I have made some massive modifications to the way I am handling said issue. As a result there has been an almost miraculous turnaround in an incredibly short period of time. Sadly, the truth about what needed to be done was right in front of me the whole time. However, it took me 1095 days (give or take) to come to my senses and make the changes that now seem painfully obvious in retrospect.

 So much for having life all figured out.

 As I was reflecting on my own folly, it occurred to me that no rational person WANTS to stay stuck in a sinful pattern of behavior, counter-productive relationship, or bad situation. However, even many Christian people find themselves stuck in such situations.

 Three issues hold us back from the freedom that change brings.

 Fear of the future keeps many from making needed changes. Humans fear what they do not know and there is no way of knowing what life is going to look or feel like if we let go of a bad situation, negative pattern of behavior, harmful relationship or sinful coping technique.

 Secondly, at the heart of a refusal to change there is almost always an idol of some sort. An idol is anything we put before obedience to God and His commands.

 Drugs, alcohol, control, sex, power, relationships and money are just a few of our modern-day idols. Wanting to be loved, and fear of being rejected, is probably one of the most common (and least discussed) idols in the church. Fear of being disliked or rejected causes otherwise intelligent and even spiritual people to tolerate situations and participate in activities that are clearly sinful and stupid for much too long.

 And finally there’s pride. In order to make necessary changes we must first admit that we were going about things all wrong in the first place. Owning that fact sucks, it’s embarrassing, and it also offends our misguided sense of self.

So we hang on to our sin.

 Change can only occur when we humble ourselves and repent.

 Repentance is more than simply admitting we were wrong and moving on. In order for the change that comes as a result of repentance to be permanent we must come up with a prayerful strategy for the future.

 We must suck up our fear, swallow our pride and admit we got it wrong. Then we need to let go of any idol that is holding us back and work out a plan for handling the future. Finally, we need to pray like crazy so that we will have the power necessary to do what needs to be done.